Uncovering the truth about corporate mindfulness

Written by
Sue Alderson

07 Mar 2016

07 Mar 2016 • by Sue Alderson

Its not all candles and meditation

Mindfulness is not the sole preserve of hippies and Buddhists, it doesn’t have to involve lighting incense and listening to whale sounds (in fact, they can be counterproductive), and it’s not meditation.

In fact, many companies are now embracing mindfulness, because it can improve health, productivity and effectiveness. These include KPMG, TfL and GSK, where the vast amounts of scientific proof of its effectiveness are recognised and embraced. 

Mindfulness is about taking time out to pay attention to the present moment, without judgement.

In a world where the amount of stress one heaps on oneself can be seen as a badge of honour, we need to recognise the ways of reducing the potential negative impact of exhaustion and mindfulness is a great place to start. It allows us to take a step back and refresh our perspective on the world, to decide on a better response to the challenges we face, and to really focus. Neuroscientists have proven that no matter how good we are, our brains are simply not capable of operating effectively on more than one complex task at a time. 

Mindfulness is a core part of a business strategy

By introducing mindfulness through such areas of personal development as leadership and management programmes, it can be filtered from the top down into a company culture and have a beneficial impact on the whole workforce.

It is especially good for improving emotional intelligence alongside other work to boost resilience and stress management and can be incorporated into a wide range of training and development.

Time to think

Clearly, depending upon the nature of one’s job, the potential risks inherent in a working life so hectic that people do not have time to think about what they are doing are varied.

But there is real value in having time to think. Even outside of work, in a world in which our lives have become increasingly encroached upon by technology, especially when it brings our work home or even into our bedrooms, we need to shut things down and take time out in our own heads.

This is one of the reasons why mindfulness has become such a growing phenomenon. People are starting to realise that they need a point in their day that is their own, to check in with their minds and bodies. 

Likewise, it only takes a few seconds to stop, breathe and centre oneself, once, maybe twice a day. You don’t even have to leave your desk, though it probably helps for most; it is not about a complicated ritual, you can mindfully engage in any activity.

It’s all good for the mind and spirit of the individual, but employers should be aware of the benefits as well. A mindful workforce is more likely to conduct his or her duties in a more considered and thoughtful manner, and less prone to hastily err in their tasks. As a result, they are more likely to manage time effectively and produce good results. 

Fighting against depression and anxiety

Additionally, mindfulness is a weapon in the fight against a rise in depression and anxiety, which affects 20% of the UK working population. Figures from the Health and Safety Executive show one in seven people find work very or extremely stressful.

We hear a lot about the issue of productivity among the UK workforce, and how employers will get as much out of their existing staff before recruiting, but the fact is that there are many people who are overloaded, engaged in the equivalent of a plate spinning or juggling act. Inevitably, without time to consider each move, a plate or ball will come crashing down.

I’m not suggesting that businesses “carry” unproductive people, but that somebody with a workload that does not give them time to think is likely to become a detriment at some point, no matter how good they are.

The potential benefits of building time to think into the working day are many; from doing a job in a more thoughtful, considered manner, to avoidance of personal breakdowns, through mental and physical exhaustion. It can help with developing authentic leaders, driving values and ethics, boosting creativity, and enhancing cognitive performance.

What’s more, the discipline of mindfulness is one that can be coached into staff. The concept of mindful coaching has sprung up for people looking to declutter their brains outside of the workplace, and it’s something that can be done with and for employees, with benefits for staff, employers, customers and colleagues alike.

It’s a wise move to consider this when planning the balance between workload and workforce. Yes, mindfulness may sound like some form of “tree-hugging hippy nonsense” to the uninitiated, but when people are overloaded with work and technological encroachment upon their lives, bringing a little balance can make a huge difference.